Jim sat on the bench in the park. He often did that. It was the secluded part of the park out of sight of most people and well away from the paths everyone took.
He had his sandwiches and a flask of tea and wanted to be alone for the day. Christmas day meant nothing. He just wanted to be alone. All that ‘Happy Christmas’ business was just too much.
What was there in the day to make him happy? Mary, his wife, had died a couple of years ago and he missed her every day. Christmas day was about the worst day in the year.
It was worse than ever this year. Alan, his youngest son, had died back in February. No one had expected that. It was an unbearably painful blow.
Then in October Dave, his other son who had had some ill-health, also died unexpectedly. Jim’s world had ended that day.
He saw no meaning or value in anything. So what was there to be happy about on Christmas day? He was bitter, angry and overwhelmingly sad. Worst of all, were all those regrets about his selfishness, bad temper and thoughtlessness.
He wished he’d been a better husband and a better father – so much better than he had been. His daughters-in-law didn’t really want him. He had not been at all nice to them and now he was just miserable all the time.
He could have gone to the church down the street. Mabel, who lived next door, kept asking him. But in the church they would all be singing carols, laughing, and talking about God and Jesus, and he didn’t want any of that stuff today. No, Jim was with Scrooge – ‘Merry Christmas? Humbug!’
So he sat there with his sandwiches and empty sadness, and hoped no one would come near him.
Mabel was so happy that Christmas day. Eighteen months ago she had been devastated by the death of her husband, Bill. When he died, she thought life could never have any real value or joy again.
Since her sight had largely gone, she had attended the special group for older people with sight problems. The organisers were very religious but she could ignore all that; she liked the singing and friendship, and Bill always said it did her good and got her out of the house.
He was right. They were nice people and she had become close friends with some of the other ladies. They all had sight problems and they understood each other.
Bill had died in August. They had never had any children and so Mabel was alone. Her two brothers had supported her after Bill’s death, but they had their own lives and families, and the support they could give was limited.
It was the people from the church who had helped her most. They were so nice, so understanding, and did so many practical things to get her through those first difficult months.
That’s why she had gone to their carol service last year. It was the first time she could really remember thinking about Jesus and why he had been born. She had thought so much about what happened when you die after Bill had gone, but she saw no hope in anything.
Now the preacher spoke about Jesus coming into the world to save people like her and bring hope. She wished Bill had been there to hear it, but he had gone and she didn’t know where he was. But what she heard about Jesus gave a glimmer of hope to her empty and hopeless life.
She had gone to church most Sundays after that and slowly she began to understand more about who Jesus was and the wonder of his love for people like her. At the same time, she began to realise how wrong much of her life had been.
She was ordinary, but it was the very ordinary things she did that were so bad. She had left God out of her life as though he didn’t matter. But he did matter – he was God. But it puzzled her why Jesus should have let them crucify him when he was so powerful.
Then in November she had heard a blind man talking about his life and how he had realised that Jesus had died in his place. She could relate to all he said. That night she trusted in Jesus as her Saviour, because she knew he had died for her and that was what she needed.
This was the first Christmas since she had become a Christian, and though she missed Bill so much, she couldn’t help feeling amazingly happy. Jesus was born for her! He came into the world to die for her! He had risen again and lived in heaven for her! He was the greatest Christmas gift ever. She was so happy.
There was only one thing she had to do that Christmas day.
Before going to the church for the Christmas lunch, she had to find Jim. She knew his little hiding places in the park. He had to be told that Jesus Christ had been born for him as well as her, Mabel. She just wanted to share that with him.
It was Jesus that made it a ‘Happy Christmas’!